Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The neural control of vigor

An interesting article from Dolan's laboratory on the neural substrates of the motivation and vigor with which we perform actions. Their abstract lays it out clearly:
The vigor with which a participant performs actions that produce valuable outcomes is subject to a complex set of motivational influences. Many of these are believed to involve the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens, which act as an interface between limbic and motor systems. One prominent class of influences is called pavlovian–instrumental transfer (PIT), in which the motivational characteristics of a predictor influence the vigor of an action with respect to which it is formally completely independent. We provide a demonstration of behavioral PIT in humans, with an audiovisual predictor of the noncontingent delivery of money inducing participants to perform more avidly an action involving squeezing a handgrip to earn money. Furthermore, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we show that this enhanced motivation was associated with a trial-by-trial correlation with the blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal in the nucleus accumbens and a subject-by-subject correlation with the BOLD signal in the amygdala. Our data dovetails well with the animal literature and sheds light on the neural control of vigor.

Figure - The PIT paradigm used. Stage 1, In the pavlovian conditioning stage, participants are exposed to repeated pairings of the CS+ (a visual background and a sound) and a US (monetary reward of 20 pence), as well as presentations of a CS– that is not associated with reward. Here participants pressed a key to remove a patch that hid either a coin (CS+) or a coin with a superimposed red X (CS–). During the baseline CS, no patches were present; thus, there was no opportunity for reward. Each CS block lasted 12 s. Stage 2, During instrumental learning, participants were trained to squeeze a handgrip to obtain the same reward. Each block lasted 12 s. Stage 3, The critical PIT test took place under extinction and included presentation of the three CSs in a random order (here only the CS+ block is depicted). The participant was allowed to continue responding instrumentally.

Figure - Amygdala activity associated with PIT. Participants who showed a larger global PIT expressed enhanced bilateral amygdala activation. The bar graph shows, for the right amygdala and NAcc, mean parameter estimates for the correlation, across participants, of global PIT with the parameter estimate in each CS condition. Error bars represent the 90% confidence interval. *p <>

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